The Story Behind Tapioca

The Story Behind Tapioca

Tapioca. You might have tasted it before, but have you seen a tapioca plant before? Do you know that tapioca doesn’t grow like most fruits or vegetables? Instead, it is grown from the roots of a tapioca plant.
I was so glad to have the opportunity to follow my assigned lady, Tepuq Bulan, to visit her tapioca farm. To be honest, I had never before seen a tapioca plant until visiting Tepuq Bulan’s farm.
Tapioca farm
Tapioca is best harvested when the plant is about 9-12 months grown. Because of this, it is planted annually.
We can identify the maturity of a tapioca plant by looking at its branches. If there are fruits on the tapioca plant, it means the tapioca is ready to be harvested. 
Tepuq Bulan harvesting tapioca using a hoe
Harvesting tapioca is a backbreaking job, especially for a 6-foot tall guy like me. I had to bend down, continuously digging until I caught a glimpse of the tapioca. It was very challenging as you can’t dig too fast or exert too much strength when digging as you might damage the tapioca. Tepuq must have been watching with cold sweats while I was harvesting the tapioca as she was worried I might destroy her hard work. Luckily, there was only a small cut on one of the tapioca roots.
“Be gentle” ”Do it softly” These were the words of advice Tepuq gave me before she left to collect tapioca leaves. By the time she finished collecting one bag of tapioca leaves, I was still struggling to pull out tapioca from the same spot.
After harvesting, the stem cutting method was applied to plant a new tapioca plant, where the end of a stem is sharpened before inserted into the soil with a depth not exceeding 4-6cm. The stem was cut to about 15cm long for it to grow.
Fried tapioca cake
“It’s just an ordinary fried tapioca cake, nothing special about it” was my first impression of the dish pictured above. But after I experienced the process of harvesting and planting tapioca, I started to appreciate it as I realised so much blood, sweat and tears was involved in getting the tapioca that we take for granted. There are a lot of things we do not understand until we experience it. During my time in primary school, my teachers always reminded us not to waste rice as every grain of rice came from the hard work of a farmer. Now, I clearly understand that we should feel grateful and appreciate everything that we have even if it’s just a cup of water because we are living lives far more fortunate than many others.  
Musings on the penultimate night

Musings on the penultimate night

Even after a year, I still vividly remember my fond time spent in Bario under Batch 2 of Project WHEE!. Life in the hustle and bustle of Kuala Lumpur certainly makes me wish for a more serene environment sometimes. In addition to that, the oppressive heat of the inter-monsoon season causes me to long for a return to the cool breeze of Bario.

To give those who are interested to join a glimpse of what Project WHEE! can be like, I would like to share an entry on the journal which I kept while I was in Batch 2. 

4th July, 2014

It is hard to believe that this is the penultimate night of my stay in Bario; time has passed so quickly despite my best attempts to savour every day, akin to how one can never hold water in her hands no matter how hard she tries, as the water will simply flow through the crevices between her fingers.

The last day of working at the sawah (Malay for paddy field) was a joy. I feel a sense of freedom when I am able to go into the knee deep mud without being worried about getting dirty. As Tepuq Bulan and I had almost finished clearing the remains of the old harvest the day before, it was finally time to spread the seedlings to grow. After we had finished our work, Tepuq Bulan surprised me by bringing out a Tupperware containing a whole cut pineapple. I was delighted of course, as Bario pineapples are perhaps the best in the region, but at the same time I was terrified of disappointing her if I did not finish it as it would be unwise to refuse or fail to finish pineapples when offered in Bario. If it wasn’t for Rhonwyn who was there at the nick of time and helped me with it, I would have ended up in a pineapple-induced coma. 

Today was also the last day that I taught at the local school – SMK Bario. Staying true to my “no play play” policy, I gave my class a quiz on the chapters in Form 2 science that I had been tutoring them to master, chapters that they were going to be tested on next week. Although I was far from a competent teacher, I was determined not to let their allocated time with me be in vain. To my pleasant surprise, they were very diligent in doing the test. However, my heart nearly skipped a beat after I had ccalculated the results, for the exception of a few kids, nobody scored more than half marks on what was supposed to be a very easy quiz. I certainly hoped that I did not show this, and I once again got my chalk to review some important concepts that will help them in their exam. I figured most of them didn’t bother studying for the quiz, but I hope that their attitudes towards the real exam will be different. 

After dinner at 9 pm, Sathesh, Thiiban and I went to Tepuq Bulan’s house to learn more Kelabit. As we had made arrangements for Tepuq Ribed to be there as well, it was quite a party with the two ladies laughing uncontrollably about many things in Kelabit, especially about the word ngawah (Kelabit for marry), with which Thiiban made many sentences with it to his expense.

My last day at the sawah with Tepuq Bulan. Bario Asal is visible in the background on the left. Picture by Rhonwyn.
Being An Inspiration

Being An Inspiration

In Project WHEE!, besides training and equipping the Bario women with skills and knowledge for ecotourism activities, we the volunteers also teach in SK and SMK Bario after school. We organize activities there to brush up the students’ English and hopefully, inspire them.
When Batch 5 was told by Daniel and Rhon, our project coordinators about this task, I was worried. How exactly will I be an inspiration to these students, when in reality, I’m not exactly the most inspirational person around? 
SK sessions went well for me and my partner, Abang KK. We were tasked with the Standard 6 class. The students were absolutely adorable. They greeted us very formally (Goooood eeevehneeng aahbaang KK aand kaakak Gaaneet) every time we entered the class. They listened to everything we said in class, and cooperated with us for all the activities. Needless to say, we adored them to bits. 
After a session in SK
SMK on the other hand, was a real challenge, for me at least. In SMK, I was tasked with Form 1B. The difference between the SMK and SK students were, even though the SMK students cooperated with me in our session, I could clearly see that they weren’t as enthusiastic as the SK students. Their faces showed what they really thought about my session – boring, not exactly helpful, uninteresting.
After my first session with SMK, I went back to the homestay feeling dispirited. I thought I had failed to be an inspiration for the students. 
That night during debrief, I shared my disheartening experience with the rest of the batch and wallowed in misery. I was upset for not being able to live up to the expectations I had set for myself. However, Rhon said something that made me look at the entire situation differently.

”You may not think that you have been an inspiration to them, but just seeing Project WHEE! around in school is already an inspiration for the students. They don’t see many outsiders in school most of the time, and you don’t know this, but they are very excited to see us whenever we come to Bario. Just because you don’t feel like an inspiration does not mean you don’t leave an impact on them. You may not have inspired them to learn English, but you have inspired them on something else.” 

For me, what she said rang a bell. In my life, there have been many events that inspired me to do something that was not the original objective or goal of that event. One example would be a contest I participated back in secondary school. My team was the First Runner Up for this national level contest. It was about producing a professional magazine. Winning that spot did not inspire me to become a journalist, nor did it inspire me to pick up graphic designing. Instead, it inspired me to believe in myself – believe that I have the potential to achieve amazing things in life. I trust that the organizers of that contest had no clue or foresight that they  would motivate a participant to be more confident in herself, and yet they did.

”We never know which lives we influence, or when, or why.” – Stephen King, 11/22/63

My experience with the SMK students did not inspire me to become a teacher, but it did inspire me to understand the way teenagers think and learn. I sincerely hope that my session with the SMK students did spark some sort of inspiration in them, and I hope this story has inspired you with something! 🙂

Wise Wishes.

It
takes me two trains and one bus to transport me to university, every day. On
some days, I find myself being very reluctant to drag myself out of bed two
hours earlier only to reach my class on time. On some other days, I reach home
with just adequate energy to walk myself to shower and crawl myself into bed.
While I was in Bario, Sarawak, I
count myself fortunate to have witnessed not only the lives of the elderly
folks, but also the lives of the school going children. Over the couple of days
I have experienced at the schools, I have all my admiration towards how
respectful they have been. To us, complete strangers at first and friends, at
the end of the trip; I hope.
There was an interesting mix of
enthusiasm and a care free nature I saw in these children that had me thinking
of how much I spent most of my schooling years feeling rather pressured to
perform academically better and only that. I remember not liking to stay back
extra hours in the afternoon at school for classes and here I was, teaching
English to a class of Form 1 students during after school hours, with an
initial assumption that they were probably going to be napping in class and
completely ignore my existence.
However, to my pleasant surprise, I
had a great two hours teaching this bunch of excited and enthusiastic kids! I
felt like I was doing something right when the students were so appreciative
when I corrected their mistakes on their written essays. Getting them to
interact in the beginning was a tad bit difficult, but the class got so much
pleasurable when the awkwardness broke. Class ended abruptly one day, when the
teacher made an announcement requesting all students to make their way to the
hydro dam to have their bath as there was water rationing around Bario Asal.
Yet again I was amazed at how these
kids did not rant a single bit or heaved a sigh at the thought of hiking up to
the dam after a long day at school. They quickly got their towels and soaps,
grouped up and headed to the dam while some boys sang songs and some girls had
giggly chatters. At that moment in time, watching that sight; I had a hit of
realization towards an aspect of myself. I came to terms that I should really
reduce on focusing about my end of day exhaustion and simply try to look beyond
and continue the walk.
Sometimes, I give in too much,
simply too much towards my tiredness that the rest of my day goes to waste.
These children too, have reminded me to be a little carefree. To always add the
element of fun whenever possible. When I think about it, a little ease to the
mind doesn’t really kill anyway. I have learnt to look beyond the situation
and twist it into a little fun adventure. I would like to believe that these
children had great fun bathing at the dam, might I also add how fast these
children are at hiking!
More often than not, we all wanted
to be adults as soon as possible while we were still in school. Through these
children, I saw what schooling years and being young meant through a different
lens. Carefree, enthusiastic, they have fun and they are focused whenever
necessary.

Five
days into coming back home and returning back to my everyday routine, I have
these children at the back of my mind as a reminder that giving up really isn’t
an option. Sometimes, all I really need is to embrace the journey and celebrate
whatever it is the day presents to you; whether it is welcoming a complete
stranger to teach you an academic lesson or taking a hike to have a bath after
a long day at school.

Either way, life gives you a million
parachutes, board it or end up watching it go by.

In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find
the fun, and – SNAP – the job’s a game!


 Mary Poppins, A Spoonful of Sugar

That Fire

I
remember my time at school, we had our fair share of boring classes, pointless
meetings and assemblies and unhelpful teachers. Sometimes, we did have some
lecturers and classes that we enjoy and cherish even after our time there; but
honestly, who really enjoys waking up early and staying back late for classes?
Nobody enjoys their last day of holiday knowing that they have to get up early
for school tomorrow. Well, that was West Malaysia for me, classes are not our
No. 1 interest, and the teachers’ No. 1 fans are definitely not all of their
students.
Bario
was the first time I ever jumped into an East Malaysia classroom. I have some
experience in teaching for private tuitions, but that was with at most two students. Knowing that I would have to teach a class of more than 5 students
did scare me. We always have those trouble makers sitting at the back of the
class in the West, making lots of noise, not paying attention to the speaker,
even disrupting or skipping classes. I was unsure of how I could handle these
people, considering that it has been less than 2 years since I graduated from
high school. Putting aside my inexperience and young age compared to my elder
teammates, I stepped in my first class with YC and Kit May, my two teammates. The
class we had: Standard 5 of SK Bario.
Our
class of 5 boys and 3 girls was surprisingly receptive to us, even though we
had some difficulties teaching Science in Bahasa Malaysia. They ran into their
class and sat in front, anticipating us big brothers and sisters to teach them
something. The students may be older than the others in the other classes, but
they are very polite, which surprised us a lot. If we entered a West Malaysia
class, there are high chances for half the class to be missing, either skipping or genuinely
having some more important commitments than us. The polite and relaxing class
atmosphere in Bario is a rare sight in West Malaysia; I have never seen so much respect
to any new outsider before. Although we struggled to translate the words we
knew into Bahasa Malaysia to the class, they were very patient towards us. They
even did the class activities and exercises with enthusiasm.
Our
next assignment was Form 2B in SMK Bario, which was a much bigger class. The
sight of 25 students was intimidating to me and Ai Jin. However, just like the SK
students, they were receptive even when I struggled to teach them about air pressure in
Bahasa Malaysia. They were also smart and grasped concepts easily. However, we
discovered an ugly truth of what our education system has done. The English
standard in the schools are poor; poorer than our already deteriorating
standard of English in West Malaysia. They struggled to even construct simple
sentences in Form 2, and heavily relied on the Bahasa Malaysia-English
dictionary. 

Then, Ai Jin realised the standard of the class after she saw their
recent examination results at the back of the classroom. The passing rate in the
class was very low. Maybe, the students there have the enthusiasm to study, but do not have the adequate resources to strive forward. The situation in the West is
absolutely opposite; many do not have the enthusiasm to study, but are flooded
with private tuitions, extra classes and workbooks. I am really worried about the
English standard there. Over here at where I live, I struggled to get into an international school and
getting a decent score in IELTS because of my lack of proficiency in English.
However, these children in Bario cannot even score high in our low English
standard examinations, what more competing with the world.

Teaching
for the last time to the Standard 5 class, we taught them to aim higher and
strive for the best. I cannot hope for any different for them, they have the
enthusiasm to strive and succeed. To the urbanites, I can only advise you to
appreciate what you have; respect your lecturers, appreciate what your parents
sacrifice for your education, and attend those classes. You have no idea how lucky and
fortunate you are. To the students I taught in Bario as well as those of you in similar situations, well done in your enthusiasm, never die down,
in fact strive for more and more. Never stop improving, push away those that undermine you, ignore the criticisms and follow your dreams. Sooner or later,
you will all become great people, and it all starts with that enthusiasm to
learn, that fire in you. 
Teaching to learn

Teaching to learn

Surprisingly, I learned a lot of Kelabit words on my first day. I must admit that it was difficult to learn those words. I was thinking that if it was difficult for me to learn Kelabit words, it would also be difficult for the Bario women to learn English. Hence, I thought that I would need to be more patient and find strategies to teach English to the Bario women. Most of the content in this post will consist of the Kelabit words that I had learned in Bario.
Below are a few words that I have learned in Kelabit on my first day:
Jonathan Ngadan Uih – My name is Jonathan.
Kuman – Eat
Mirup – Drink
Petabi De Dhtum – Good night
Petabi Rhedum – Good night 
Petabi Le ke thang – Good morning 
Numbers from 0-10 – Na’am, edtah, dua’, teluh, epat, lima’, enam, tuduh, waluh, iwah, puluh.
Uih – I 
Iko – You
Kayu – Tree


Some jungle vegetables and fruit vocabulary that I picked up over time:
Paku-pakis
Midin. Slightly smaller and finer compared to paku-pakis.
Buah kabar
Daun sup
                          

Daun Isip. Widely used to wrap Nuba’ Laya’ (soft rice)
                                                                   
I was assigned to Christina. Christina is a mother of four and is 28 years old. She looks really young. At first, she was shy to learn English so I built a strong relationship with her and eventually it was easier to teach her English. Hence, I realised the importance of relationship building before teaching an older person.
I must admit that I learned more Kelabit words from her as she already has quite a wide English vocabulary but just lacks the confidence to communicate in English. I learned Bahasa Kelabit from her and she learned the English from me. Both of us used Bahasa Malaysia as a medium of communication.
As we grew closer, she had to leave to Miri for some reasons. I thought Christina would forget about me when she left to Miri but I was so happy when she texted me! After she left, I was paired up with Violacea to teach Tepuq Ribet English. I rested for a few days before joining forces with Vio as I was ill. I came to a conclusion that unexpected things will happen when you are teaching and we must always be prepared to face these changes. 
Christina and her one year old daughter, Cherisha. I truly miss them a lot despite meeting them for only 3 days.
Below are the few words that Christina and I learned using the translation method:
Thank you – Terima kasih
You are welcome – Pa’ad
Sorry – Mutuhdoo
It is okay – Doo enah
Yes – Mo
No – Na’am
Water – Pa’
Food – Nukenen
Rice – Nuba’
Wind – Bario
Mountain – Pu’un
Up – Dita
Down – Benah
Right – Seno’ah
Left – Ka’bing
Cat – U’sing
Dog – Oko
Chicken – La’al
Fish – Luang
Wild boar – Baka
We – Tauh
They – Ideh
He/she – Ieh
Only after learning and practicing the Kelabit language hard, I found this…
I should have found this book earlier though…
I will wrap up this post with some Bahasa Kelabit fun facts:

  • Did you know that the apostrophe sign is pronounced as ‘k’ if is it written at the end of a Kelabit word?
  • Bahasa Kelabit does borrow some words from Bahasa Malaysia.
  • There is no ‘he’ or ‘she’ in Bahasa Kelabit and both are referred to as ‘ieh’.

What Advice I Can Give

I’ve never been a pessimistic person. Some might even go so far as to call me blindly optimistic. Maybe I’m a romantic but for all my cheery disposition, I won’t deny that I’ve had my doubts. Being the guinea pig batch, it was really make or break yet somehow, things went beyond any of our expectations or hopes. No matter what kind of problems we faced, things always turned out fine.
I don’t have much to offer and you’re probably tired of all my pretentious ramblings but I’ll try to keep this light and tell you the little bit that I’ve learnt.

you’d be surprised by how much funnier your lady is than you
1. You’re not working with robots
As cool as it would be to get to work with robots, you gotta remember that you’re not. Whether your teammates, the ladies you’re assigned to or even the regular townsfolk you meet on the way, you always have to be aware that these are all people. They’re people just like you, with their own aspirations, emotions and thoughts. They’re capable of light-heartedness and profound wisdom. I think it’s important to build your connections based on that fact and not to keep them at a distance where we treat each other as “us” and “them”. 
Down in the sawah

2. Don’t be afraid of a little dirt

Okay, maybe calling it “a little dirt” is an understatement. I think each of us had our fair share of mud, slop and dust. Sinking into the sawah was probably my dirtiest experience, with mud and water coming up to my waist. Even with that, I had an incredible time. Tepu Uloh made it such a good time for me, it hardly felt like work. Give me assignments or sawah work with Tepu Uloh and I’d take sawah work anytime! 

we can be pretty clueless learners at times
3. Remember what you’re there for
With all fun you’re having, it’s easy to forget your purpose. Sometimes, you’re so excited to learn words like “Petabi leketang” (good morning) and “mudan” (rain) that you don’t manage to teach as much as you learn. There should be a balance where both parties exchange what they know. More often than not, you have to remind yourself and your lady why you’re there. Otherwise, you might end up sweeping floors and learning Kelabit words without actually teaching at all!!








4. Trust each other
Photo: First group photo of Batch 1 Project WHEE! 2014 together with our Bario Asal coordinator, Sina Nicole Dayang. :D

Photographer: Jeremy Chin
family

Maybe it was a lot easier for my batch to go into this already being very close to each other but from this, I’ve learnt that people are inherently good. Don’t think that you have to do anything alone, whether it’s washing dishes or having emotional problems. You’d be surprised how willing people are to help. Be real with each other. There were plenty of times when I had really deep conversations that I just know I wouldn’t have had in any other circumstances. It wasn’t just a matter of inside jokes. These small acts of trust and care actually made our shared experiences all the richer. 



5. Come as you are
Bario doesn’t ask for much. All you really need to do is to come (clueless,naive but open-hearted) and let Bario sweep you off your feet. 
An Openness and A Willingness To Learn

An Openness and A Willingness To Learn

There was a time a few years back when I followed my grandmother into her little backdoor kebun. Bones crackling, she was holding a basket with as many vegetables in it as she had years in her life. Fast forward and I’m in Bario, seeing my assigned lady knee deep in sawah padi water. As we worked together, we chatted about random things. Sometimes, I would slip in some English words we had already learnt and we would repeat it together a few times.
One thing that never ceased to amaze me was how human and personal these people we were working with were. They could have simply shut us off but they instead chose to open up their lives to us. They were no longer just people from a distant land that I could have easily been detached from. They were people I truly came to care for. Faces as real as my own grandmothers’. Their culture and lives may have differed from ours but in the end, they were still people.
On the first day I spent with Tepu’ Uloh, my assigned lady, she brought me to sit with her below the longhouse to ‘buat kerja raut-raut’, which basically means doing something for the fun of it.  She poured out a bunch of rocks that she told me her ‘cucuk’ had collected from the hydroelectric dam. We proceeded to hammering them into tiny pieces. Sounds silly but it’s a pretty therapeutic activity. It’s definitely something to keep your hands busy over a conversation.
It being our first day, I figured that it would be better for us to speak in BM and get to know each other before actually teaching anything. To my surprise, she started teaching me Kelabit words and then asking me how to say things in English. I taught her ‘stone’ and joked that if you ever want to call anyone “kepala batu”, just point to their head and say “stone”. When we had the pleasant surprise of Dan joining us, I pointed to his head and asked “Tepu’, ini apa?”. He seemed understandably confused when we both burst into laughter after she answered “Stone! Stone!”.
That’s how our lessons often went from then on. I would tell her a word and make a joke about it. We’d laugh and repeat the words to each other. Sometimes, we’d even bring the joke back up days later to laugh at it again. To be honest, I was a poor learner compared to her. There were plenty of Kelabit words she taught me that I couldn’t get a grasp of.

Me, Tepu’ Uloh and Jess in Bario Airport

That didn’t matter though. It didn’t matter that we sometimes forgot the words we learnt. It didn’t matter that we weren’t picking up all that many words a day. In the end, we wanted to learn. We wanted to share. We would remind each other and we would talk. That’s what I believe was the most important thing. That willingness to learn.

It wouldn’t have worked at all if I had assumed the role of the ‘teacher’ and only ever wanted to teach her English, as if English was any better than Kelabit. It wouldn’t have worked if she had refused to learn. 

Tepu Sinah Rang, Tepu Uloh and me

When we started out on this project, we came with a goal to teach but I’ve realized that can’t be all. Don’t just teach because that’s not all you have to offer. If you walk in with a ready set plan or a curriculum, you won’t get the best of it. I found out by pure coincidence that the best way to teach this woman was through humor and a light on life. From there, I was blessed with a relationship that grew so deep, she told me she would be more ‘senang hati’ knowing I went home with someone who ‘doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink and takes care of’ me. She really cared for me like her own granddaughter.
For the future batches, I know it seems like a ‘level up’ when you get your ‘Kelabit name’ or if you get loads of Kelabit jewellery. It was pretty cool when Tepu Uloh gave me her own name and I didn’t want to let go of her after she gave me my first Kelabit bead necklace but really, it’s the bond between us that really matters.When she told me to sit and rest after seeing me coughing the whole day. When she asked me how to say “I Love You” in Mandarin so she could say it to me. When she playfully pulled me into a dance during cultural night. Those were the things that really stayed on with me. 

 

Me, Tepu Uloh and Jess on Cultural Night

Uncertainty Is Where Things Happen

Uncertainty Is Where Things Happen

Too many times, I’ve fallen into the trap of the future and all the uncertainty that comes with it. My friends used to tell me that I’m a worrier and worrying was exactly what I did on the morning we had to leave KL for this mysterious place I had never heard of up till this project– Bario.
My mind was on a mad chase. I was worrying about all the things I was leaving behind (shampoo, assignments, debate, etc.) and the things I was about to face. (possible relationship breakdowns, arguments, failures etc.) I was clearly a lot more troubled by the coming adversities than I was of the past. There’s something quite terrifying and vaguely disconcerting about the unknown but in retrospect, that day I left was brimming with possibilities, not worries.
Forgive our city selfies and Starbucks cups, we’re new here!
Maybe I should have remembered what I read a long time ago from Oliver Burkeman that uncertainty is where things happen. “It’s where the opportunities–for success, for happiness, for really living–are waiting”. From the moment we took off, we had the luck of being thrown from one great opportunity into another without ever really knowing what to expect. Uncertainty became a sort of driving force as we hurtled through the days.
It’s strange how we became so set in that time paradox of Bario. So many unexpected things could happen in a day despite it being as routine as the humungous wooden bell that wakes everyone in the longhouse up at 5 am sharp. The days always seemed so long and yet ended so fast. I would be hammering stones and chatting away with Tepu’ Uloh for hours on end and suddenly, the six o’clock sky would turn to dark night.
I can easily pick out an example that happened to me less than 24 hours into being in Bario. We all joked around saying that I had managed to “scare off” my Tepu all the way to Miri but it was a situation that left me a little depressed at first.
The night I met her, Tepu Uloh and I managed to hit it off relatively well. She’s a wonderful woman and we chatted so much, she was holding my hand by the end of the night. We talked about our families and life in the kampung compared to KL. She even showed me pictures of her and her grandchildren.
Holding hands 
Now, imagine me cheerfully walking up to her the next day to ask for a broom and she, with equal cheer, tells me “Okay.  Just make sure it’s there when I get back from Miri next week.”
Wait, what?
All of a sudden, I was left with completely no idea what to do but watch her walk off. She walks pretty fast for an old lady so when I came to my senses, I had to run barefoot to catch her. It was a scene worthy of a Bollywood drama. I said my goodbyes and gave her the present I had bought her from KL. She immediately pulled me in for a long hug and said goodbye. I swear, it was completely unscripted.
Slightly disheartened but ready to suck it up, I had to follow Xara with her assigned lady, Sina Tagung, the next day. It felt a bit like I was intruding and it never felt right, but I tried my best. At one point, we managed to lose Sina Tagung while we were busy washing dishes and had to walk around the longhouse calling out for her. Xara turned to me and says “Nobody likes you, ar? They all run away from you.”
Ouuuuchhhhh.
It was an unexpected turn of events, but that was when I started to realize that life in Bario was so laid back, these kinds of things are pretty trivial. Take things as best as you can and eventually, it’ll turn out fine.
Call it a gift from the universe or an answer to a prayer but Tepu’ Uloh came back from Miri several days early. Why? Apparently, it was because she knew there was someone back home waiting for her. Pretty cool, huh?
Speaking of surprise gifts from the universe though, I realize there were plenty of them. It was always the slight (and sometimes, drastic) deviations from our plans that turned out to be the best of times. I remember Rhon spontaneously bringing me out of the longhouse to look at the stars and her saying “Now you know why I love Bario”. I remember jokingly saying to Tepu Uloh that the only word you need to know in any language is ‘discount’ and how that ended up being her favourite word. I remember Tepu’ Sinah Rang teaching us how to dance poco-poco after our Beauty Session. All these little things that were never planned out gave me a higher appreciation towards life in Bario. That it’s all okay. Do’ Ina. Tak apa.
Photo: Walking to pasar riah with Ganit & Kijan :) -Ruran- #kelabitnames
Uncertainty seems pretty insignificant when you’ve got mountains backing you up

Honestly, it was brilliant living in that time paradox where I was comfortable not knowing how things would be in the next minute. I started out constantly checking how high up the sun was but the the light in Bario lies. Time hardly mattered anymore. The mountains may have been crumbling but it was taking such a long time to us. Sometimes, we would sit quietly on Tepu Sina Rang’s veranda, eating kuachi and drinking tea. I just think that to those mountains that surrounded us, our days must seem like milliseconds. The same how, upon returning, we’ve changed a thousand times over but to KL and all the people in it, it was just another two weeks.

I guess time is just so relative and there are just too many ways to look at life. I’ve been so torn between mourning the past and worrying about the future, I let that uncertainty take over. In light of all that’s happened in Bario, I think I’m ready to take on whatever uncertainty lies ahead. I may be back in this strange place called KL, but I’ve got these Kelabit beads all the people I love have given me and that kind of anchors me. It reminds me that things always works out, somehow. That I’ve got a place I can call home somewhere out there. That I’ve got mountains behind me and the winds of destiny pushing me forward on my way.

-Felice Mujan-